Friday, April 27, 2012

Tag Time and a Snippet from "The Disappeared"

I have actually been tagged twice with the 7-7-7 Challenge (thanks Lauren and Jess!), and now that I have more of my book actually typed into the computer, I can finally see what falls on what page.  Therefore, I humbly accept the challenge and offer this snippet from page 77 of my work in progress (tentatively entitled "The Disappeared"):

       “There aren’t many of us left in this valley.  Last winter claimed half of us, and The Unrest claimed a fair bit more.

“The first uprising took Saul's father. They found him strung up in the middle of town. Birds were picking over his remains. The wild animals had already claimed their share from the bottom half. What was left of him swung in the bitter winter wind.

“A few days later, his mother went to town to see if she could get a Widow’s Pension. It’s not much, but it gives you a ration card.  You can get some food at least.  Well, you could if the approved items were in stock.  But they rarely are, what with all the fighting going on...”

Now I admit, I went slightly over the seven sentence limit--but I could not stand leaving in the middle of a bit of dialogue. 

I have been informed that The Rules are as follows:

  1. Go to page 77 of your current MS
  2. Go to line 7
  3. Copy down the next 7 lines as they're written-- no cheating!
  4. Tag 7 other writers
  5. Let them know!

So, the lucky seven four (sorry, I am really bad at following the rules!) who now get to share from their work in progress are...

  1. Jayne
  2. Cat
  3. Nick
  4. Laura
Now, if they follow directions better than I do, at some point they will post their snippets, too!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing - Part 1

I have come to the realization that there are several things you can do to strengthen your writing.  Things that are free and don’t involve taking classes or fancy seminars.  Some of these suggestions might even improve more than just your writing, they might even improve your life…this is often true of good advice.

My dear friend and fellow writer is joining us from her blog to mock my suggestions offer commentary on my advice, and she will offer some advice of her own in Part 2 of this post (coming next week).  In order to differentiate her snarkiness from my own, her thoughts in depicted in the green font. 

Also assisting with this blog post is my cat Sirius, who will be demonstrating each tip.  So, without further ado, here are...


1.  Read More.  I know, I know.  Everyone seems to think that there is no time to read…and yet these same people often find time to plop down in front of the television every night for hours on end.  Reading good books fosters good writing.  So much of what we learn about a good story structure, a meaningful turn of phrase, or gut-wrenching suspense can be absorbed by seeing it done first hand.  If you regularly read good books, all kinds of good books, you will notice what the writers do, and don’t do.  It helps.  Honest.  (And if not, well, at least you helping to support another writer’s family.)  

I really dig this Katniss, chick! 
You gotta like a character whose nickname is Catnip!

There's a reason this tip is number one, and I'm a little pissed she got to it first.  But, I'm a slacker and didn't have my crap together fast enough, so what was she supposed to do?  This, friends and fellow writers, has to be the most essential thing on the list.  Read.  Read everything (no matter what Crawford Kilian says).  Read in your genre (very important if you already know what genre you've set your sights on), read outside of your genre.  Most of all, read really good stories.  If it grabs you and holds you and won't let you go, you need to find out why.  There is magic in a good story, and it's up to you to break down the alchemy.

Does it bother you when
people stare at you?
2.  People Watch.  If you plan to have people in your stories (and, for the moment, I am just going to assume you are), you need to learn how they move, how they talk, and interact.  You need to listen to the cadence of their speech, how they look when they are deep in thought, what nervous movements fill their awkward silences.  Watch.  Make notes.  Hope you don’t get mistaken for a stalker.  These are things a writer must do for her craft.  You might consider having a good friend, a trusted cohort, that will agree to bail you out of jail in the event your intentions are somehow misunderstood.  

*Sigh*  How much is the bond this time?  I keep telling you the sunglasses do not make you invisible!

I am Superman!  I am Superman!
3.  Surround Yourself with Believers.  When you finally admit to the world that you have a dream and, by gosh, you are going to pursue it, two things will happen.  First, you will receive a few pats on the back, some will tell  you how they always wanted to do that exact same thing, you might even get an “You go, girl!” or an “Atta Boy!”  Those are all well and good.  Unfortunately, you will also see another side of people.  People you thought you knew.  These people will immediately tell you why this is “A Bad Idea” and why it will have “Dire Consequences.”  They will tell you about a friend of a friend’s aunt’s brother’s daughter’s father’s mistress and how she did that EXACT same thing and nearly died, or went bankrupt, or both.  While I do not know this allegedly well-meaning prophet of doom, I do know the type.  This type has already put their dream on a shelf, long since covered in dust, and let it die.  They would like you to do the same.  Because, to listen to them, that is the “Practical Thing to Do.”  To them, I can only say this (and I hope you will, too):  Screw Practical.  No one who ever did anything worth-saving-for-posterity ever thought, “Hm, well, now there is a nice, safe, practical idea that will revolutionize things.” 

Someday that cat will sprout wings.  And then who will be laughing?  Don't worry, Sirius.  I'll tell 'em all, "I told you so!" 

Cats don't suck it up,
they LAP it up!
4.  Suck it Up.      Writers can sometimes be a bit…sensitive.  Myself included.  We whine about how there is not enough time (even though we all have the same 24 hours in a day), we talk about family commitments and how there is no time to write if you have a family (I know one person who wrote drafts of stories on their phone and emailed them to herself while her son was at karate practice.  The other mom’s gossiped, she wrote.)  Writers write…they don’t talk about writing, they write.  If you want to be a writer, ditch the excuses and WRITE! 

Note: This cat's tongue is not photoshopped. 

(This is true, as I can neither afford PhotoShop, nor do I know how to use it.)
The cat's dialogue feels stifled,
and the dog scenes should be cut...

5.  Get More Beta Readers.
  Beta readers are like mythical beasts (but without the cool horns or wings or tails), and they protect writers from putting out material before it is ready to be viewed in all its glory.  Beta readers help to mold and polish.  They are the extra set of eyes that we need…but which would be cosmetically unattractive if we somehow tried to obtain them surgically.  One Beta reader is good.  Two beta readers are better.  Three beta readers would be amazing…I hope you can sense the pattern here.

But, like Thestrals, you can only see beta readers if you've seen death--in this case, the death of a story that sounded good in your head, but looked like diseased offal when you tried to write it down. Sometimes, legend says, a dedicated beta reader can even revive an author-abandoned story from the dead.  (Tabitha King was/is Stephen's most trusted beta reader.  Thank you, Tabitha, for Carrie.  The world owes you--BIG.)
Who says cats don't have a sense of humor?
4.  Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously.  The bottom line is that you have to be able to laugh at yourself.  Otherwise, the waiting, the criticism, the deadlines, and the monotony can take its toll.  So laugh.  Laugh over your mistakes, laugh over bad reviews, laugh to keep from crying if you have to, but laugh.

STAY TUNED for Part 2 of - Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing

So, surround yourself with believers.  And that includes YOU!  You have to believe in yourself...even if no one else does.  ESPECIALLY if no one else does.  You have to believe you are freakin' Superman!  Then you strive to live up to that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

World Book Night Giveaway WINNERS!

  Due to the number of people who entered, I have decided to give away FOUR copies of "The Things They Carried."  I appreciate all the tweets and comments!  So, without further delay....the winners of the 2012 World Book Night Book Give-Away are:
  1. Trisha
  2. Alexandra Conrad
  3. Lauren
  4. Kristi Ayers
Please email me your mailing address, and I will get the books mailed out this week (assuming you have responded!).  My email is gingerlovinmind(dot)gmail
And, for those who might have been wondering, I have over 42,000 words typed up on the novel and several chapters are out with beta readers.  I am working on some new scenes, and I will be eating 1/2 a peanut butter sandwich over lunch in order to make more time for writing.  (Who knew that working on the final push to finish a book could help to lose weight?)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

World Book Night - Book Give Away!

As I have blogged about before, I am a World Book Night "book giver."  I will be giving away THREE copies of the book The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien, here on my blog. 

There are three ways to enter:
  1. Comment on this blog. 
  2. Become a fan of the T. Z. Wallace, Author Page on Facebook.
  3. There’s more! If you share news of this post/giveaway through Twitter, say so in your comment by mentioning your handle. 
The winner will be chosen randomly at 11:59 p.m. on April 23, 2011, and the results will be posted that same day.  The books will be mailed to the winners the following day (or as soon as you get back to me with your mailing information, whichever is first).

The remaining books will be donated in a variety of ways.  So far, am thinking of giving a copy to a local literacy program, a copy to the homeless shelter, a copy to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, but there are plenty more ways to give the books away.  If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them--leave them in the comments section!

Monday, April 16, 2012

I am Not That Writer...

Another, more famous, rejection letter.
There is a clear plastic bag that once held a quilt.  At some point, the bag became the home of short stories, and a scrap of paper or two with the names of publisher written in neat letters.  There is a rejection letter or two.  That clear bag houses much more, though.  It is home to a forgotten dream. 

I have to remind myself...I am not that writer. 

That writer was my grandmother.  Her stories are not my stories, although there are certain words or turns of phrase that we both share.  Her stories suffocated in the plastic bag.  Whether they were tucked away in frustration, or if life simply got the better of her intentions...I will never know.

Every day I work on my book.  Some days I make my page count, and other days I work through plot points in my head, or in long messages to fellow writers who offer feedback and encouragement--things that I am certain my grandmother never had.  She never talked with me about her writing; she treated it like a childish fancy to be tucked away from the bright light of the "real world"--almost as if she were ashamed of it.

Perhaps she was.

The words are meticulously typed.  The pages are yellowed and starting to crumble, the edges are curled.  I wonder if she ever pulled them back out once she had tucked them away....  Did she ever read them over again, looking for some value or truth in the worlds and people she created?

Did she write late at night, like I do?  Or early in the morning before the sun had chased away the night?  Did she write even when the laundry chastised her for neglecting it and dishes piled up in the sink?  Or did those around her chastise her, instead?  Did she tuck the stories away of her own accord, did she abandon them, or were they wrestled away from her?

More than once, I have sat at the dining room table and struggled to make my daily word count before loading the dishwasher or tidying up the living room.  I have tucked children in bed and reminded them that their bedtime is when I follow my dream; I remind them that adults have dreams, too...that dreams are what make us individuals.  I have reread my pages with a critical eye, and wondered if anyone cares if I finish...or rather, anyone other than me.

Stifled dreams...
I wonder, at times, if I am following her down some long-trodden path that will end up in a plastic bag of suffocated dreams.  These are the days that I have to remind myself...

"I am not that writer."       

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Because They Said No a/k/a Slaying the Dragon

There are those that help us along our journey through their kindness and support.  There are others that inspire us to succeed...if for no other reason than the glory of proving them wrong.  I have both of these types of people in my life.  Fortunately, I have far more of the supportive variety.

But a little buggie recently informed me that another had confided that my work here was "just for show" and that "nothing would come of it."  I will admit, my first reaction was to pain.  For a moment, I even contemplated finding refuge behind the bathroom door (the only place a mom can find privacy...and then only rarely) and shedding a tear or two.  But I didn't.  Because I realized several things, all at once, and now I can share these things with you:
  1. There will always be people who think I "can't do it."  Even when this book is complete, and even if it finds some measure of success, they will still think it didn't do well enough.  And if it does undeniably well, they will think it was a fluke.  So be it.
  2. There will always be people who make themselves feel better about their neglecting their own dreams by killing another's dream.  This is to be pitied.
  3. There will always be people who do not appreciate my book (or my sense of humor, or my red hair, or...whatever).  They don't have to.  
  4. There are people who will pick you apart, if you let them.  Don't let them.
So, instead of retiring behind closed doors, I went back to my computer and typed out over 4,000 words that night.  And the next day, I typed some more...and so it continues.

I have nothing to prove.  But I do have a dream out there, and I plan on chasing it until the day I die.*  First one book, then another.  I choose to view these people as the dragon standing in the way of my treasure.  Every time I sit down at the computer to write, I am slaying the dragon.     

This is actually St. George, The Dragon Slayer,
but let's just pretend it is me.
So, you see, in some small way, the naysayers are also pushing me to complete this book.  I am sure it is not intentional, but it motivates me all the same.  Like the hopeful writer who, upon receiving their 37th rejection, sends it off "just one more time," I will press on.   

While proving them wrong is not my objective, it will be a nice reward for having completed the book. 

*knocking on wood (please join in)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Turning People into Characters (a/k/a Modus Operandi)

I recently read that some-or-other-writer believed that a good way to create a character was to take someone you know and tell one lie about him...then build on that lie.  At first, it sounded crazy.  But the more I thought about it...well, it kind of started to make sense.  Real people and places often creep into a writer's work, whether intentionally or not.  This methodology just openly acknowledges that fact.
For instance, what if one of the attorneys I know is not what he seems?  What if, instead of being a stead-fast pillar of the community, he were actually...a cannibal?  And what if the sweet, patient receptionist were actually...the matriarch of some sort of crime family?  Well, it definitely makes them  more interesting...
I had something strange happen yesterday that reminded me just how much we can distort something (for better or for worse) and use it in our writing.  I seem to have a lot of strange things happen to me, which can be good since it can made for good book fodder.  It can also just be...well, strange.

This is a not-too-far from the truth recounting of yesterday's strangeness.  There may be one lie in there somewhere*:

Lunchrooms are loud. If you have ever worked in an office, you already know that. So when my best friend abandons me for a fancy birthday lunch with her husband, I make plans to get out of the office as soon as possible. I walk down the street to a small Mexican place and order two sweet potato tamales; I take refuge at a small table near the back of the restaurant where I can write in peace. Between bites of chips and salsa, I peck away at the keyboard. If I can tune out the other diners, I can probably reach half of my word count for the day.

I am well on my way, too, when a shadow falls across the table. Sensing someone nearby, I look up from the screen. He is probably a bit younger than I am, but otherwise unremarkable. He has dark hair, but I would be hard pressed to recall much more than that. Like I said—unremarkable.

“Are these seats taken?” he asks, gesturing to the chairs across from me. Assuming he means that he needs to borrow the chairs, I wave my hand absent-mindedly and go back to my typing.

“No, that’s fine,” I say.

He sits down at the table across from me.

My fingers slow down. Did he just sit down? I wonder. Seriously? He just…sat down?

I type faster, wondering if I should get up, ask him what he wants, just move to a different table. For some reason, I don’t want to be rude. I wonder if those people who I read about in the newspaper worried about being rude in those moments before their killer lashed out.

I shake the thought from my head and try to focus on the computer. The stranger takes out his cell phone and looks over some texts. He seems perfectly at ease; for some reason, this rattles me even more. I try to focus on typing, but my fingers stumble over the words as I grow more agitated.

A few patrons seem to recognize him, and he shakes hands with them good-naturedly. He clearly means something to them. As he hugs an elderly woman who greets him, I wonder if he is a politician. That would make sense. Politicians certainly know how to schmooze, and this guy was a schmoozer. I think I remember reading somewhere that Ted Bundy was quite personable.

The waiter brings his food, and he thanks her profusely before digging in. My throat feels constricted. I can’t eat. And I so rarely go out to eat, that the resentment builds as I realize that I just spent money on food I can’t even enjoy. The silence drags on, minute sliding into minute until I can’t take it anymore.

I stop typing and look at him, more than a little annoyed. “So, what do you do when you aren’t busy eating lunch across from people you don’t even know?” I ask. The words sound harsher than they did in my head, but there it is. At least it is out there.

“I am bringing a new grocery store downtown,” he says. “The people deserve to be able to buy their groceries in their own neighborhood and not have to drive across town.”

I’m not sure how to respond, so I mutter something non-committal. I wonder how much longer this will drag on.  (For those of you who are drags out for a full hour!)

“What are you working on?” he asks, taking a big bite of whatever it was he ordered.

“A book,” I reply, wondering if this was his modus operandi. Maybe he targets women who are alone. He probably thinks no one would miss them right away.  I wonder if I have worked in a law office too long.  Maybe it is making me suspicious, or pessimistic, or--

Law office.

Crap! I am wearing my work sweater that has the firm’s logo on it. He can find out where I work. Strange-Man-Across-the-Table can track me like prey now. Then I realize that I didn’t tell anyone that I where I was going for lunch. It figures, the one day that I don’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the lunchroom is the day I will end up dead via serial killer.

I feel like I am in a horror movie, and I imagine all of the viewers yelling at me. Get out of there! What are you thinking?
"What kind of book are you writing?" he asks, not looking up from his food.

"Dystopian young adult," I answer without thinking, then I clasp a hand over my mouth.  Why did I just tell him that?!

"I don't read much.  I mean, I do for my industry, but not for pleasure," he says.

See!  I knew he wasn't trustworthy.  A non-reader.  Hmph!
“I should really get back to my day job,” I say with false brightness, as I pack up my computer, and gather my cell phone and coat. I am careful to ensure that the Potentially-Dangerous-Man-Across-the-Table does not have access to any of my personal belongings that could lead him right to my door.

“It was nice meeting you,” he replies with a wave and a smile.  I swear I can feel him watch me leave.

I walk briskly back to my office and dash back to my best friend’s desk.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, taking in my frazzled appearance. I spill the story in a rushed jumble of words, backtracking repeatedly to make sure that I emphasized his oddities adequately.  She agrees that is it odd, and reasserts the fact that I have been know to attract some odd characters.

Ever efficient, I decide I should find out who my future killer is.  I dart to my computer and perform a few quick internet searches. Within minutes I present my friend with a photograph of him and a profile page ready for her inspection.  I figure she should keep it all together as evidence...for after I am found slaughtered.

“That’s him!” I nearly shout, pointing at the grainy picture accusingly.

“Hm,” she says tilting her head. “He looks pretty normal. And it looks like he is pretty prominent in the community...Oh! Wait!  That would be the perfect cover.”

I nod my head in agreement, glad that she is taking this as seriously as I am. She turns back to the computer screen and skims his profile.

“Hm. Studied paleontology…economics…yoga…. Interests—“

“What?” I asked, nudging her aside for a better view of the screen. “Oh.”

“I’m sorry, honey,” she says. “Why do you always seem to attract the strange ones?”

“I have no idea,” I mutter, staring at the screen. “Who the hell lists ‘teeth’ under the ‘Interests’ section of their bio?” I try not to shudder.  Teeth?  Really?  Interested in...teeth?
This pictures is so creepy
that I can barely look at it. 
“Dentists?” she offers, her voice hopeful.

"Well, sure,” I agree. “But he isn’t a dentist.”
“No,” she says sadly.

I look at her intently. “If I go missing, make sure to check the grocer’s freezer section,” I inform her. “And when they find me, see if I still have all my teeth or if he pulled them first.”


For another take on what may have happened (a/k/a the "Non-Serial Killer" version of the above story), check out my friend Patrick Nelson's blog.   

*Actually, no.  This is a pretty straight forward recounting of how it all happened and how my mind always goes to the worst case scenerio.  I lied about adding-in a lie.  Writers do that a lot.  Lying = Fiction.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

To Kill a Deadline

This is the quote that has sustained me the past few weeks as the realization dawned on me that there was no way that I could get the book finished before my fortieth birthday.  It should still be completed and available on Amazon by the end of the year—just not by the end of July.  I have fought against this truth for a couple of weeks.  I had hoped that getting the new computer might be able to push things forward.  And it has, but there is still only so much time in the day. 

To be honest, for a day or two I felt like a failure.  I typed furiously and logged several thousand words each day.  Then yesterday…I hit the wall.  I was exhausted—mentally and physically.  Then I realized that this deadline was of my own making, and it was within my power to un-make it.  If it takes me a few more months to create the book I want, a book I can be proud of, then so be it! 

This revelation was helped along late last night when I was absorbing some or other television show about Harper Lee and wallowing in my writer’s guilt.  (Luckily, I recorded the show so I could watch it when I am less sleep deprived and guilt-ridden.)  The program mentioned that Harper Lee had finished To Kill a Mockingbird and it was with a publisher and they were working on editing, etc., but that it spent TWO YEARS in rewrites.  Yes, you read that right…even after actually having written the book, Harper Lee spent another TWO YEARS rewriting, tweaking, polishing, wordsmithing and otherwise honing the book to perfection.

Two years.  Two….years…

Suddenly my few extra months does not seem so insurmountable.  So, if you’ll bear with me, I will take the time I need to likewise hone and wordsmith.  And if I hear a familiar whoosh swoop past while I am typing, at least I can take comfort in the fact that I am in good company.